Springs counts on Pro Challenge to change perception

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When 100 cyclists sprint into downtown Colorado Springs concluding the USA Pro Challenge’s Stage 5 on Aug. 24, much of the world will learn that the city did not burn down this summer.

The race, televised mostly on NBC Sports cable network, will be seen in more than 160 countries. That day, after starting in Breckenridge and coming through Wilkerson Pass, cyclists will end the fifth stage with three laps around downtown Colorado Springs. But first they’ll barrel through Woodland Park, down Ute Pass into Garden of the Gods park, then southward on 30th Street, making a sharp left onto Colorado Avenue as viewers see backdrop of how rugged mountain terrain meets urban city.

Money couldn’t buy that kind of publicity, said Meredith Vaughan, Colorado Springs race organizing committee co-chair and president of Vladimir Jones.

“The initial broadcast, the replays and promotions for next year’s race,” Vaughan said. “The media impact is something we could never afford to buy.”

Colorado Springs’ tourism took a hit following the Waldo Canyon fire when many summer travelers canceled reservations to stay in Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region. Hotel bookings in July were down 10 to 20 percent from last year, said Steve Ducoff, Pikes Peak Lodging executive director. August, so far, is just flat.

Across the country, viewers saw homes burning here in late June and shied away from visiting. Local tourism officials launched a $200,000 marketing campaign to counter the image that all of Colorado Springs burned.

The image of a vibrant city core might convince conference planners, business travelers and tourists as they look ahead to plan their next destination, said Ron Butlin, Colorado Springs Downtown Partnership executive director.

“It’s got to have an impact on the people planning 2013, to keep us on the list of potential cities,” Butlin said.

In its second year, the USA Pro Challenge seven-day cycling race returns to Colorado Springs, after the opening prologue was here last August. The event might not pack local hotels, Ducoff said, because its fans will follow the race to the next city. But it attracts international and national media who will follow racers across the state and highlight the 12 host cities.

“It’s going to be incalculable in terms of dollars in the kind of image this race has — that’s huge for the city,” said Mike Moran, Colorado Springs Sports Corp. spokesman.

Last year, race organizers reported the week-long event had an $83 million economic impact on the state. In Colorado Springs, tourism officials estimated the prologue’s economic impact at $2 million.

This year, some deliberate planning with downtown businesses is intended to drive people into local restaurants and shops the entire race week, said Nikki McComsey, ancillary events director and Kids on Bikes executive director. Each day of race week, groups of bike riders will leave America the Beautiful Park and end at a downtown business for watch parties.

“We want to give people a positive experience downtown,” McComsey said. “If they don’t come downtown frequently, now they have an opportunity to see the shops and restaurants and interact in a positive way.”

It’s difficult to gauge how much cycling enthusiasm over the race translates into cash-register transactions, said Bruce McGrew, owner of Pro Cycling bike shop. But last year was his best year, he said.

“I look at it like the trickle-down effect,” he said. “With a stage finish, it can do nothing but increase awareness.”

McGrew will be at the finish line downtown in the vendors area, hoping to attract new cycling enthusiasts. Mostly, he said, he wants millions of TV spectators to see Colorado Springs celebrating.

The race course route was set in February. In the Colorado Springs finish, the course was designed so cyclists end the day racing three circuits around downtown — northward on Cascade Avenue, to Cache La Poudre Street and down Tejon Street. Coming into the city, it could be the fastest stage of the race, Vaughan said.

She’s looking forward to seeing the replays of the race with Colorado Springs in the backdro19.

“Everyone is familiar with Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods, but not many have seen the downtown core,” she said. “We have a unique opportunity, in real time, to show how the urban and wild interface in areas untouched by the fire.”

Colorado Springs Rally Week

• Aug. 20-24: Free, nightly rides begin at 6 p.m. at America the Beautiful Park and end at a downtown business. Ride begins at 1 p.m. Aug. 25.

• Aug. 24: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fans can ride around the USA Pro Challenge Stage 5 finish downtown — a chance to ride the same route as the pro racers.

• Aug. 24: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Finish Festival. Party includes live music by Funkiphino and Martini Shot, beer garden, a Kids’ Zone, expo and food vendors, big-screen live coverage of the finish and BMX demos. Cyclists are expected downtown about 3:30 p.m.

For a full list of rally week details go to www.ridestage5.com